We Are Israel—Really?
Once again Passover is upon us. One of the key ideas in the Passover Seder is that each member of the Seder should consider himself as though he or she had actually been in Egypt and been redeemed personally by God at the time of the Exodus.
The first Seder I ever attended brought this keenly to mind. I was a young man who had never been around any Jewish community. But I knew that I loved the Jewish people because I loved the God of the Bible and the story of his salvation and redemption. So when a friend invited me to a Passover Seder I leapt at the opportunity.
When I arrived at the Seder I found it was being held in the basement of a small church. The leader was a representative of “Jews for Jesus”. He led us through the Seder using a traditional Passover haggadah. Actually, I don’t really remember how traditional it was, but it did contain all the basic elements of a standard Seder.
As we went through the haggadah, we came to a place in the story containing the injunction that each participant in the Seder “should identify with our fathers” to such a degree that we felt the pain and anguish of slavery, just as they had. Similarly, we should internalize the great joy and sense of relief experienced by those who left Egypt and subsequently met with Hashem at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Since I was not raised in a Jewish home or even in a Jewish community, I immediately experienced a sense of dissonance. After all, I was a Gentile. I had no affiliation with anything Jewish. All I knew at that point was that I believed in the God of Israel, and the Messiah he had sent 2000 years ago. Since coming to faith in Yeshua, I had come to love Israel and begun my journey towards learning what it means to be Israel and to live as Israel. But the question remained, “Do I have the right to regard those who left Egypt as my own forebears?”
For the past few weeks I have been seeing memes saying things like “We don’t support Israel, we are Israel!”. This is one of those funny statements that may be taken to very different ways.
On the one hand, I understand the author’s intention. He wants to communicate the idea that Gentile followers of the Jewish Messiah are identified in Scripture as having been integrated into the national life of Israel. This is a good and desirable goal. We all want to be unified with the ancient chosen people. However, there is a dark side to this meme. When said by someone who has nothing whatsoever to do with Israel or the Jewish community, or even speaks of Jews and Jewish leadership in a manner that is condescending at best, or derogatory at worst, this meme comes off as supersessionism, pure and simple.
So, when we sit at Seder and read from the haggadah that the participants should view themselves as being delivered personally by God from slavery, and brought into the covenant with the Almighty, there are significant implications that must be weighed. For truly, the patriarchs of Israel are not in our blood lineage. You and I, in our generation, are brand-new participants in both Torah and Messiah. The Jewish people have possessed both for over 2000 years, and yet, some of us have the chutzpah to come along as “new kids on the block” and pretend that we are going to bring a new, fresh objectivity and understanding to both—an understanding that has been missed by thousands of students and teachers who have devoted entire lifetimes to the study of Scripture and the Redemption.
If we truly desire to identify with, and share in the communal life of, Israel, then we must truly act in accordance with that desire. We must make friends with Jewish people. We must study the history and sociology of Israel. We must study the development of Jewish thought and religion. More, we need to demonstrate our identification with Israel and the Jewish people in practical matters. Buy from Jewish merchants. Study with Jewish rabbis. Contribute to organizations that support and defend Israel. Learn what it means to be Jewish if you want to be perceived as supporting Israel—rather than supplanting it.
Anything other than this will be perceived as yet another attack on the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. Laying claims to honorific labels and titles without a lifestyle that lends credence to the claims only confirms in the Jewish mind that you are one more interloper, an outsider who wants to claim the blessings of Israel’s God while kicking Israel to the curb.
And don’t forget, the entire Bible is a Jewish story. The Torah was given to Israel, not the Gentile nations. The Davidic monarchy, key to defining the Messiah, is a Jewish monarchy. The hopes and dreams of a blessed Messianic age when the world will be at peace, and everyone will live in prosperity, come to us by way of the Jewish sages and the rabbis of Israel.
When we say that we identify with, and are, Israel we must ask ourselves whether this is really true. Or are we feeding our egos by adopting titles that have nothing to do with reality?
Remember, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Is more than just a nice saying—it is the hope for the restoration and re-gathering of Israel, and it is the promise of Messiah Yeshua to one day take his throne in the City of David. As we celebrate the joy of deliverance from bondage, let us also give thought to the responsibility true citizens have towards the nation they claim as home.